Mayor Wilson said the gardens are very well cared for, and I should go and see for myself. Councilwoman Carol Rowley said I should speak to the City's Chief Building Official, Reggie Meigs, about the inspection report on Mudd's building and why it needs to be torn down.
When I spoke to Meigs he said I should call Mark Fontes, Economic Development Director, for information on the Inspection Report. So I called Fontes and we set 11 AM on March 29th for the three of us to meet at Mudd's.
I got to Mudd's around 10:30 AM on the 29th. I drove around the back to the parking lot. It was fenced off because a new office building had been approved next to it and construction on it would be starting soon. So I drove around to Park Place and the entrance to Crow Canyon Gardens. I parked in the small lot in front. The Gardens really did look lovely. I had my camera with me so took some photos.
Becky Davies, the organic gardener hired by the City to maintain the gardens, was there with volunteer Julie Rose, trimming and shaping the bushes. I took some photos of them at work. It appears it was just a coincidence they were there when I came.
I walked around and took several more photos, which I hope San Ramon Express Editor, Jessica Lipsky, is able to post on the Main page. I'm including one of Davies at work with this blog (we can post only one photo in the blog).
Meigs and Fontes came walking in from the back of the property. I went over to meet them at the Mudd's Restaurant building.
We went inside the building. It looked the same as I remembered it before it was closed in 2008. It looked OK to me except for the kitchen, which I knew was in bad shape.
Rowley said it was full of dry rot and infested with rats. I saw one large rat trap, with no rat in it. Fontes said rats are attracted to the gardens, so that's normal. My cat leaves more rats in my garage than I saw at Mudd's. I'll lease him out to the City for a small fee.
I asked Meigs why the original staff report said the building would need only $215,000 in maintenance, but a few months later the price tag had gone up over $1M. He said that first amount was based on a walk-through estimate by Jeff Eorio and Karen McNamara and not a real inspection. Meigs said they hired a professional inspection company to do the final inspection. He said you can't see dry rot from the outside. It can only be located by sticking a knife or sharp object into the walls.
I asked Fontes if I could see the inspection report. He said it's private because it was used in the negotiations to purchase the property; so it cannot be made public or it could hurt the city in future real estate negotiations.
Fontes said the kitchen would need a complete overhaul and there was possibly mold in the air ducts. I said the building doesn't have to be used as a restaurant, and that the kitchen, which did look awful, could be torn down and the rest of the building used as a Nature Museum and Day Care center. Those were the recommendations in Jeff Eorio's original Staff Report. Eorio said the Mudd's building could be used instead of a new 1200 square foot building planned for office space and a day care center. That building is estimated to cost up to $1.5M to build.
Fontes said former owner John Ebert made lot of "improvements" to the Mudd's building that were not permitted or up to code, and these would have to be taken out or redone. He also said "It would be a nightmare to make this ADA compliant." I wondered why that hadn't been required years ago.
Meigs said the City had to buy the property to keep control over it because it was next to the gardens and they didn't want an office building put there. I said it wasn't right to buy it and pay off an investor, Ron Taylor, and then to turn around and lease it back to him to build another restaurant there.
Meigs didn't know who Ron Taylor is, but Fontes did. Taylor is one of the foremost designers and builders of restaurants in the country. Taylor invested $318,000 in Mudd's and was reimbursed when the City purchased it. I thought Taylor would be the money behind Michael LeBlanc's new restaurant, but Fontes doesn't think so. Taylor would be designing and building it though.
I asked Fontes if he supported the new restaurant because of the revenue it would bring into the City. He said not only that but jobs. According to LeBlanc, the Heritage Restaurant would provide 80 to 100 new jobs in San Ramon.
I asked how this project is different from Patrick David's, which went out of business in less than a year. Fontes said the partners couldn't get along and they were hit by the bad economy. He feels LeBlanc would not have those problems.
However Fontes said that LeBlanc would have to go through the planning and approval process before anything could be done with the property or the lease. That means he would need to raise the money to build and staff the restaurant and have his plans approved by the Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board before any permits could be issued. Fontes said these steps would take six to eight months.
Fontes said he would keep me informed about any meetings at which LeBlanc's plans are reviewed. I plan to attend those meetings. I still believe Mudd's should be saved for history, but history doesn't always turn out the way we would like.